Summary: How King Belshazzar’s arrogance led to the fall of Babylon to Darius the Mede.
Dandy Don Meredith (from Mt. Vernon, Texas) used to be on Monday Night football with Howard Cosell. When a game was already decided, he would start to sing the old country song, “Turn out the Lights, the Party’s Over.” Well, 2,600 years ago, there was a party in Babylon, and God said, “Turn on the lights–and read this–the party’s over.”
So far in our study of the book of Daniel, we have seen in chapter 1 the faith of young Daniel, who made the commitment not to defile himself. In chapter 2 we saw Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the multi-metallic statue interpreted by Daniel. He prophesied the rise and fall of four world empires and the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. In chapter 3 we observed the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who discovered it’s cool in the furnace when Jesus is walking with you. Then last week we saw Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream, a great tree was cut down. We learned of the amazing conversion of Nebuchadnezzar from a man of pride to a man of praise.
Before we begin our text for today, we must understand the historical setting of chapter 5. There is a great deal of historical information outside the Bible about these events. Particularly, the Greek historian Herodotus (500 B.C.) writes about these events. He even dates the fall of the Babylonian Empire on October 12, 539 B.C.
When chapter 5 opens, Nebuchadnezzar has been dead for about 25 years; and several of his relatives who spent a little time on the throne of Babylon. By now, Daniel is probably in his 70s and he is living in semi-retirement. He is no longer a VIP, because he was Nebuchadnezzar’s friend, and Nebuchadnezzar is long gone.
One of Nebuchadnezzar’s sons-in-law (he had many, because he had many wives and children) is the official king. His name is Nabonidus–he doesn’t appear in this chapter–his son Belshazzar appears as king (he is actually co-regent with his father). History tells us Nabonidus was a wicked, but shrewd king, and by now he has left the city of Babylon and is living in what we would now call Saudi Arabia.
When Chapter 5 begins, the mighty army of the Medes and Persians have conquered all the of the territory of Babylon except for the city of Babylon itself. This huge army of Cyrus the Great is camped outside the great city. At the time of these events, the city of Babylon is under siege by the Persian army. It is fully surrounded. All the gates are locked and barred, though the massive wall surrounding the city provides state-of-the-art security. It is impossible for an army to break through.
With a twenty-year food supply laid up and the Euphrates River running right through the city, Belshazzar is confident he can simply wait out the siege. So secure is he that the walls are virtually unguarded. All that is needed is to rally the morale of the people, so he put on a huge banquet, probably with the intent of putting a good spin on this recent turn of events.
Daniel 5:1-9. “King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lamp stand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. 6His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way. The king called out for the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to be brought and said to these wise men of Babylon, ‘Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.’ [His father, Nabonidus was number one, he was only number two, so number three was as good as he could offer]. Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.”